Ancient Mantis-Man Petroglyph Discovered in Iran

A unique rock carving found in the Teymareh rock art site (Khomein county) in Central Iran with six limbs has been described as part man, part mantis. Rock carvings, or petroglyphs, of invertebrate animals are rare, so entomologists teamed up with archaeologists to try and identify the motif. They compared the carving with others around the world and with the local six-legged creatures which its prehistoric artists could have encountered.

Entomologists Mahmood Kolnegari, Islamic Azad University of Arak, Iran; Mandana Hazrati, Avaye Dornaye Khakestari Institute, Iran; and Matan Shelomi, National Taiwan University teamed up with freelance archaeologist and rock art expert Mohammad Naserifard and describe the petroglyph in a new paper published in the open access Journal of Orthoptera Research

The Teymareh rock art site in central Iran (Markazi Province, Iran), where the petroglyph was found
Photo by Mr Mahmood Kolnegari

The 14-centimetre carving was first spotted during surveys between 2017 and 2018, but could not be identified due to its unusual shape. The six limbs suggest an insect, while the triangular head with big eyes and the grasping forearms are unmistakably those of a praying mantid, a predatory insect that hunts and captures prey like flies, bees and even small birds. An extension on its head even helps narrow the identification to a particular genus of mantids in this region: Empusa.

Even more mysterious are the middle limbs, which end in loops or circles. The closest parallel to this in archaeology is the ‘Squatter Man,’ a petroglyph figure found around the world depicting a person flanked by circles. While they could represent a person holding circular objects, an alternative hypothesis is that the circles represent auroras caused by atmospheric plasma discharges.

It is presently impossible to tell exactly how old the petroglyphs are, because sanctions on Iran prohibit the use of radioactive materials needed for radiocarbon dating. However, experts Jan Brouwer and Gus van Veen examined the Teymareh site and estimated the carvings were made 40,000–4,000 years ago. 

One can only guess why prehistoric people felt the need to carve a mantis-man into rock, but the petroglyph suggests humans have linked mantids to the supernatural since ancient times. As stated by the authors, the carving bears witness, “that in prehistory, almost as today, praying mantids were animals of mysticism and appreciation.”

Sarkubeh village (Markazi province, Iran) is the closest
to the studied site human habitation
Photo by Mr Mahmood Kolnegari

Original source:

Kolnegari M, Naserifard M, Hazrati M, Shelomi M (2020) Squatting (squatter) mantis man: A prehistoric praying mantis petroglyph in Iran. Journal of Orthoptera Research 29(1): 41-44. https://doi.org/10.3897/jor.29.39400

Two fish a day keep the mantid coming back to prey: The 1st fishing praying mantis

Commonly known to predate on insects, praying mantises have occasionally been observed to feed on vertebrates, including small birds, lizards, frogs, newts, mice, snakes and turtles. Mostly, such records have either not been scientifically validated or have occurred under induced and human-manipulated circumstances.

Nevertheless, no scientific data of mantises preying on fish existed until the recent study of Roberto Battiston, Musei del Canal di Brenta, Rajesh Puttaswamaiah, Bat Conservation India Trust, and Nayak Manjunath, published in the open access Journal of Orthoptera Research.

Last year, the team observed an adult male hunting and devouring guppies in a pond located in a private roof garden in Karnataka, India. Curiously enough, the predator came back five days in a row and caught a total of nine fish (a minimum of two a day). To reach its prey, the insect would walk on the leaves of water lilies and water cabbage growing on the surface of the pond.

The artificial pond with the praying mantis sitting on a leaf visible to the right.

Apart from being a curious first-of-its-kind, the observation raises three new discussion points worthy of further study, point out the researchers.

Firstly, the fact that praying mantises hunt on vertebrates outside cages in labs confirms that a single invertebrate species is indeed capable of having an impact on a whole ecosystem. In this case, a mantis preys on guppies which, in their turn, feed on aquatic insects.

The mantis eating a guppy starting from the tail, while the fish is still alive and breathing in the water.

Secondly, the discovery questions previous knowledge about the visual abilities of mantises. While the structure of their eyes clearly indicates that they have evolved to prey in daylight, the studied male specimen proved to be an excellent hunter in the dark. The insect managed to catch all nine fish either at sunset or late at night.

Besides visual, mantises might have evolved impressive learning abilities too. The researchers speculate that the observed repetitive behaviour might have been the result of personal experience, utilised to navigate the specimen. Sophisticated cognitive skills, on the other hand, might have allowed the mantis to develop its hunting strategies.

“Remembering the prey’s abundance in a particular site, in relation to their ease of capture and their nutritional content, could be one important factor of this choice and indirectly influence the individual predator’s fitness,” comment the scientists. “This should be investigated in further studies.”

Ready to hunt.

Original source:

Battiston R, Puttaswamaiah R, Manjunath N (2018) The fishing mantid: predation on fish as a new adaptive strategy for praying mantids (Insecta: Mantodea). Journal of Orthoptera Research27(2): 155-158. https://doi.org/10.3897/jor.27.28067

A new species and genus of ‘horned necked’ praying mantis from a French museum collection

While studying the insect collection of the Museum national d’Histoire naturelle, Paris, France, two American scientists uncovered a small, leaf-dwelling praying mantis with unique features collected from Madagascar in 2001. Its distinctive “horned neck” and flattened, cone-like eyes, as well as the location from where it was found, led the researchers to assign the insect to a new genus and species. The study is published in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

Lead author Sydney Brannoch and co-author Dr. Gavin Svenson, both of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and Case Western Reserve University, were working on a research project in their laboratory in Cleveland, Ohio, when Brannoch discovered the undescribed insect among the French collection on loan to them at the time. To determine the insect’s identity, the researchers first investigated the specimen’s locality, Tampolo, Madagascar, where it had been collected from the leaves of an unrecorded tree. When compared to other praying mantis species from this region, they found that this individual had many peculiarities that set it apart.

After comparing and analyzing specimens from various museums, the Cleveland scientists created a new genus for the praying mantis. They selected the genus name Cornucollis to reflect the horn-like projections, which extend from the insect’s neck. The team described and named the new mantis species Cornucollis masoalensis after the locality where the mantis was originally collected. It belongs to the subfamily Tropidomantinae, which is comprised of smaller, usually green mantises that appear to live on broad-leafed plants.

“Identifying a unique praying mantis hidden among other species was unexpected and exciting,” said lead author Sydney Brannoch, a Case Western Reserve University graduate student working under the direction of Dr. Gavin Svenson at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. “There are untold numbers of species new to science sitting in cabinets and cases within natural history museums around the world. Often these specimens have been overlooked, in some cases for centuries. The discovery of this new praying mantis ultimately highlights the need for continued research in museum collections.”

“Museum collections hold hidden treasures of biodiversity,” said co-author Dr. Gavin Svenson, curator of invertebrate zoology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and adjunct assistant professor at Case Western Reserve University. “A closer look can reveal species never before recognized as unique.” Dr. Svenson supported the study as part of his ongoing research to classify praying mantises based on evolutionary relationships.

The newly described leaf-dwelling mantis, Cornucollis masoalensis, measures about 24 millimeters in length, which is small for a praying mantis. It has distinctive speckled patches on its head. The new mantis is pale in color with opaque, well-developed wings. Based on external appearance, the researchers believe that this species dwells on the undersides of leaves, a unique ecological niche occupied by morphologically similar, closely related species.

The scientists suggest further field surveys could provide science with additional knowledge about the new species and genus, including the description of a female individual.

This study was done as part of Dr. Svenson’s broader research project, which is focused on the evolutionary patterns of relationship, distribution, and complex features of praying mantises. His current research project aims to align new sources of relationship evidence (DNA sequence data) with morphology and other features to create a new and accurate classification system for praying mantises that reflects true evolutionary relationships.

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Original source:

Brannoch SK, Svenson GJ (2016) A new genus and species (Cornucollis gen. n. masoalensis sp. n.) of praying mantis from northern Madagascar (Mantodea, Iridopterygidae, Tropidomantinae). ZooKeys 556: 65-81. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.556.6906

 

Additional information:

About The Cleveland Museum of Natural History:

The Cleveland Museum of Natural History, incorporated in 1920, is one of the finest institutions of its kind in North America. It is noted for its collections, research, educational programs and exhibits. The collections encompass more than 5 million artifacts and specimens, and research of global significance focuses on 10 natural science disciplines. The Museum conserves biological diversity through the protection of more than 7,300 acres of natural areas. It promotes health education with local programs and distance learning that extends across the globe. Its GreenCityBlueLake Institute is a center of thought and practice for the design of green and sustainable cities. Its website is: http://www.cmnh.org.